Welsh organic dairy farmers do their bit to save the bee

Six farmers from Calon Wen Organic Milk Cooperative are working to improve habitat for pollinating insects

Six organic dairy farmers from Calon Wen Organic Milk Cooperative have been working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to help boost pollinator species.

The Pasture for Pollinators initiative uses a number of methods, such introducing more flowering plants, leaving the edges of fields uncut or ungrazed margins, delaying grazing until after the flowering season, and managing habitat by providing ley fields with more diverse flora, including bird’s-foot trefoil, clovers and yarrow as well as ryegrass. 

It comes amid growing alarm over the declining numbers of wild bees and other pollinators, which a serious threat to the UK food industry, which depends on them for the cultivation of vegetables and fruits.

The co-op – a member of the Organic Trade Board (OTB) – led the project which was funded under the European Innovation Partnership (EIP Wales) programme, managed by Menter a Busnes, a non-profit business support organisation.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust carried out surveys on the six farms in 2018 and 2019 and found 73 pollinator species, including most of the common bumblebee species found in the UK, along with wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, bugs and flies. The dark green fritillary butterfly, which is of medium conservation concern, was found.

In nearly all cases, pollinator numbers were higher in the uncut/ungrazed margins compared to cut/grazed margins, showing the value of leaving these refuges, says OTB. But more data is needed to see whether or not the more diverse leys attracted more pollinators than standard ones.

David Edge, one of the participating farmers, told OTB: This project has shown that when farmers take ownership of research, then it develops their interest in wildlife and habitats. Many of the Calon Wen farmers have sown diverse leys far beyond those necessary for the project, helping pollinators while producing a large quantity of quality forage.

“To enable our customers to join in we are  giving away a free pack of the seed mix we are using to plant in the garden when you order from our office on online from Calon Wen’s website, and later this summer we will give away a free bumble bee identification cards.”

OTB added: “This study is the latest addition to a growing body of evidence demonstrating how organic farms work with nature in ways that increase biodiversity. It also provides organic dairy farmers with an example of good practice and approaches that they can apply to their own pastures to maximise pollinator species and numbers.”

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